Prevalence of Drug Epidemic in United States

American map covered with opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

Every 31 seconds, someone in the United State is arrested for a drug offense and over 85% of the drug arrests are for possession alone. And the arrests made are often skewed towards black, Latinos, and indigenous people and those with low-income.

Extent of the Problem

Opioids, natural and synthetic are a class of drugs that contain chemicals which relax the body and are often prescribed to relieve pain. Opioids bind to opioid receptors on cells in the brain, spinal cord and other body organs, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure. They block pain signals from the brain by releasing large amounts of dopamine. A dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes us happy when we are doing something that needs rewarding and seeks more of it. This release strongly reinforces the act of taking more drugs. Thus they are highly addictive, and result in overdoses and the associated deaths. Opioids include illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl and legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and many others.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than one million people have died from drug overdose since 1999 in the United States, and 106,699 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2021. Also for every drug overdose that results in death, there are many more nonfatal overdoses, each with its own emotional and economic toll. This fast-moving epidemic does not distinguish among age, sex, state or county lines. People who have had at least one overdose are more likely to take another overdose of the same drug or another one. And if a person who has had an overdose is seen in an emergency, there is an opportunity to help him prevent a repeat overdose by linking him to the care personnel who can improve his health outcome. Timely help can improve coordination and promote readiness of those concerned.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given approval for the Naloxone nasal sprays and injections to a person suffering from opioid overdose.  Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, and attaches to opioid receptors in the breathing system and thereby reverses and blocks the effect of other opioids. It provides a quick response and normal breathing to a person on opioid overdose who has slow breathing or has stopped breathing, but does not affect a person who does not have opioids in his system.

The World Health Organization recommends that naloxone be made available to people likely to witness an opioid overdose, as well as provide training in the management of opioid overdose

The Drug Enforcement Agency was created in 1973 under the U.S. Department of Justice and tasked with combating illicit drug trafficking and distributions within the United States.  It has a budget of nearly 3.3 billion dollars for the year 2023 for national drug control and to combat criminal drug networks for the safety of Americans.

Drugs have become a lucrative business, and a number of countries are involved in the production and exporting of drugs to the United States, including those closer to the U.S., such as Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Haiti and many others.

Incidentally, one of the major countries involved in production and exporting opium and its byproducts is Afghanistan. However, the opium production in Afghanistan was brought under control by the Taliban administration to nearly zero by 2000 before the US invasion, but it reached record high levels after the invasion in 2001. And the opioid addiction in the US simultaneously spiraled out of control.

The presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden called the drug epidemic a “public health emergency”, and the Biden-Harris administration allocated more than $450 million to fight it internationally alongside the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The prevailing drug tragedy in America involves young adults committing suicide by opioid overdose, and the babies born to pregnant mothers who are hooked on opioids.

A recourse to chemicals to fill the void experienced in the Western societies

More and more people in the Western societies experience a general loss of meaning and purpose in life, and make recourse to chemicals to fill up the spiritual void in their lives.

It has long been in the making, and it was Friedrich Nietzsche who proclaimed that God was dead along with a demise of traditional values and moral religious restraints and emphasized that humans could create their own values. He believed in the virtues of nihilism or loss of meaning to life and it became a widespread phenomenon of the Western culture, and the philosophy of modernism emerged from it.

During the European renaissance when reason became the primary source of authenticity and especially in the 18th century at the dawn of enlightenment many Western intellectuals considered religion a relic of the superstitious past and questioned the meaning of its very existence. It gave birth to secularism or rejection of faith having any role in the affairs of life.

The modern Western society is secular, and gives only lip service to religion, if at all. Secularism has become a formidable force, America has become its leader, guardian and enforcer and the West uses it as a yardstick in its relations with all other countries.

Thus religion has long been abdicated in Europe, and its churches turned into mausoleums. The United States was a religious country, and secularism was imported by a group of elites who saw their future tied to secularism.

However religion or belief in a higher being is essential for the very human existence and it gives life a meaning and purpose. Without it, a human loses his very existential nature, and his life becomes devoid of any essential purpose. A religious person is a moral human being, believes in answerability to God in this life and in the eternity of the Hereafter. A nonreligious person is very shallow, lacks morals, is mean in his conduct, and self-serving in his actions.

A December 15, 2021 poll by the famous demographic Pew Research Center found there was a declining percentage of Americans who said they were Christians and a growing number of people who call themselves atheist, agnostic or persons of no particular faith. The Pew researchers concluded, “The secularization shifts evident in American society so far in the 21st century show no signs of slowing.” Only 45 percent of U.S adults said they pray on a daily basis, down from 58 percent from a similar survey in 2007. Americans are becoming more secular, especially younger generations who don’t pray and don’t believe in God. Thus the future of America seems even bleaker.

An increasing number of young Americans are addicted to drugs

A June 22, 2023 report by the American Addiction Centers showed that substance abuse is a persistent and pressing problem for many young adults. In 2018 there were an estimated 34.1 million aged 18 to 25 young adults, and more than one third reported being binge drinkers, having 5 or more alcoholic drinks in a row during the past month and about 2 in 5 used an illicit drug in the past year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that young adults were the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.

The 2023 NIDA report said although drug addiction is a serious health problem facing young adults, and is a condition that remains severely undertreated. In 2018, only 547,000 of approximately 5.1 million young adults received any form of treatment during the past year.

Increased suicides among Americans who are young, elderly, and among black women

A study by the NIDA on February 2, 2022 reported that intentional overdose deaths, or suicides by taking an overdose of a medication or drug, found an increase in young people aged 15-24; older people aged 75-84, and non-Hispanic Black women. The study also found that women were consistently more likely than men to die from intentional drug overdoses, with the highest rates observed in women ages 45 to 64. In addition, factors such as time of year, length of day, and day of the week appeared to be associated with intentional overdose rates. The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on February 2, 2022 by investigators at the NIDA, which is part of the US Institutes of Health.

Of 92,000 people who died of drug overdose in 2020, which was the largest increase recorded in a calendar year, and reflected a nearly five-fold increase in the rate of overdose deaths since 1999. Of these 5% to 7% overdose deaths are recorded as intentional. Because it can be difficult to determine whether overdose deaths are intentional, the actual numbers are likely to be even higher. Many people with substance abuse disorder also develop other mental illnesses independently associated with suicide risk. The investigators found that age-adjusted intentional overdose deaths continued to increase in young men and women ages 15 to 24, and older men and women 75 to 84, and non-Hispanic Black women.

American women hooked on drugs who are pregnant seriously affect their health and of their babies          

A report published on February 15, 2023 by the NIDA said that the addiction and overdose crisis in the U.S. causes deaths of more than 100,000 pregnant women a year and the crisis shows little signs of abating. Between 2017 and 2020 Drug overdose deaths among pregnant and postpartum women increased by 81%. In September 2022, the CDC reported that deaths related to mental health conditions, including substance use disorders accounted for 23% deaths during pregnancy or in the year following it.

Taking drugs when a woman is pregnant can seriously affect her and her baby.  Illicit drug use during pregnancy may cause miscarriage, preterm labor, and birth defects. It increases the risk that the baby will be stillborn or will die in the first few weeks and months of life. The current research shows that brains of babies, teens and young adults are more vulnerable to addiction and its deadly consequences.

Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. is an author, and journalist. His recent book A Great Future Destined for Islam and Muslims is available at Amazon.

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